Tag Archive | "Above"

Desktop, Mobile, or Voice? (D) All of the Above – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by Dr-Pete

We’re facing more and more complexity in our everyday work, and the answers to our questions are about as clear as mud. Especially in the wake of the mobile-first index, we’re left wondering where to focus our optimization efforts. Is desktop the most important? Is mobile? What about the voice phenomenon sweeping the tech world?

As with most things, the most important factor is to consider your audience. People aren’t siloed to a single device — your optimization strategy shouldn’t be, either. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Dr. Pete soothes our fears about a multi-platform world and highlights the necessity of optimizing for a journey rather than a touchpoint.

Desktop, Mobile, or Voice? All of the above.

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Hey, everybody. It’s Dr. Pete here from Moz. I am the Marketing Scientist here, and I flew in from Chicago just for you fine people to talk about something that I think is worrying us a little bit, especially with the rollout of the mobile index recently, and that is the question of: Should we be optimizing for desktop, for mobile, or for voice? I think the answer is (d) All of the above. I know that might sound a little scary, and you’re wondering how you do any of these. So I want to talk to you about some of what’s going on, some of our misconceptions around mobile and voice, and some of the ways that maybe this is a little easier than you think, at least to get started.

The mistakes we make

So, first of all, I think we make a couple of mistakes. When we’re talking about mobile for the last few years, we tend to go in and we look at our analytics and we do this. These are made up. The green numbers are made up or the blue ones. We say, “Okay, about 90% of my traffic is coming from desktop, about 10% is coming from mobile, and nothing is coming from voice. So I’m just going to keep focusing on desktop and not worry about these other two experiences, and I’ll be fine.” There are two problems with this:

Self-fulfilling prophecy

One is that these numbers are kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. They might not be coming to your mobile site. You might not be getting those mobile visitors because your mobile experience is terrible. People come to it and it’s lousy, and they don’t come back. In the case of voice, we might just not be getting that data yet. We have very little data. So this isn’t telling us anything. All this may be telling us is that we’re doing a really bad job on mobile and people have given up. We’ve seen that with Moz in the past. We didn’t adopt to mobile as fast as maybe we should have. We saw that in the numbers, and we argued about it because we said, “You know what? This doesn’t really tell us what the opportunity is or what our customers or users want. It’s just telling us what we’re doing well or badly right now, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Audiences

The other mistake I think we make is the idea that these are three separate audiences. There are people who come to our site on desktop, people who come to our site on mobile, people who come to our site on voice, and these are three distinct groups of people. I think that’s incredibly wrong, and that leads to some very bad ideas and some bad tactical decisions and some bad choices.

So I want to share a couple of stats. There was a study Google did called The Multiscreen World, and this was almost six years ago, 2012. They found six years ago that 65% of searchers started a search on their smartphones. Two-thirds of searchers started on smartphones six years ago. Sixty percent of those searches were continued on a desktop or laptop. Again, this has been six years, so we know the adoption rate of mobile has increased. So these are not people who only use desktop or who only use mobile. These are people on a journey of search that move between devices, and I think in the real world it looks more something like this right now.

Another stat from the series was that 88% of people said that they used their smartphone and their TV at the same time. This isn’t shocking to you. You sit in front of the TV with your phone and you sit in front of the TV with your laptop. You might sit in front of the TV with a smartwatch. These devices are being used at the same time, and we’re doing more searches and we’re using more devices. So one of these things isn’t replacing the other.

The cross-device journey

So a journey could look something like this. You’re watching TV. You see an ad and you hear about something. You see a video you like. You go to your phone while you’re watching it, and you do a search on that to get more information. Then later on, you go to your laptop and you do a bit of research, and you want that bigger screen to see what’s going on. Then at the office the next day, you’re like, “Oh, I’ll pull up that bookmark. I wanted to check something on my desktop where I have more bandwidth or something.” You’re like, “Oh, maybe I better not buy that at work. I don’t want to get in trouble. So I’m going to home and go back to my laptop and make that purchase.” So this purchase and this transaction, this is one visitor on this chain, and I think we do this a lot right now, and that’s only going to increase, where we operate between devices and this journey happens across devices.

So the challenge I would make to you is if you’re looking at this and you’re saying, “Only so many percent of our users are on mobile. Our mobile experience doesn’t matter that much. It’s not that important. We can just live with the desktop people. That’s enough. We’ll make enough money.” If they’re really on this journey and they’re not segmented like this, and this chain, you break it, what happens? You lose that person completely, and that was a person who also used desktop. So that person might be someone who you bucketed in your 90%, but they never really got to the device of choice and they never got to the transaction, because by having a lousy mobile experience, you’ve broken the chain. So I want you to be aware of that, that this is the cross-device journey and not these segmented ideas.

Future touchpoints

This is going to get worse. This is going to get scarier for us. So look at the future. We’re going to be sitting in our car and we’re going to be listening — I still listen to CDs in the car, I know it’s kind of sad — but you’re going to be listening to satellite radio or your Wi-Fi or whatever you have coming in, and let’s say you hear a podcast or you hear an author and you go, “Oh, that person sounds interesting. I want to learn more about them.” You tell your smartwatch, “Save this search. Tell me something about this author. Give me their books.” Then you go home and you go on Google Home and you pull up that search, and it says, “Oh, you know what? I’ve got a video. I can’t play that because obviously I’m a voice search device, but I can send that to Chromecast on your TV.” So you send that to your TV, and you watch that. While you’re watching the TV, you’ve got your phone out and you’re saying, “Oh, I’d kind of like to buy that.” You go to Amazon and you make that transaction.

So it took this entire chain of devices. Again now, what about the voice part of this chain? That might not seem important to you right now, but if you break the chain there, this whole transaction is gone. So I think the danger is by neglecting pieces of this and not seeing that this is a journey that happens across devices, we’re potentially putting ourselves at much higher risk than we think.

On the plus side

I also want to look at sort of the positive side of this. All of these devices are touchpoints in the journey, and they give us credibility. We found something interesting at Moz a few years ago, which was that our sale as a SaaS product on average took about three touchpoints. People didn’t just hit the Moz homepage, do a free trial, and then buy it. They might see a Whiteboard Friday. They might read our Beginner’s Guide. They might go to the blog. They might participate in the community. If they hit us with three touchpoints, they were much more likely to convert.

So I think the great thing about this journey is that if you’re on all these touchpoints, even though to you that might seem like one search, it lends you credibility. You were there when they ran the search on that device. You were there when they tried to repeat that search on voice. The information was in that video. You’re there on that mobile search. You’re there on that desktop search. The more times they see you in that chain, the more that you seem like a credible source. So I think this can actually be good for us.

The SEO challenge

So I think the challenge is, “Well, I can’t go out and hire a voice team and a mobile team and do a design for all of these things. I don’t want to build a voice app. I don’t have the budget. I don’t have the buy-in.” That’s fine.
One thing I think is really great right now and that we’re encouraging people to experiment with, we’ve talked a lot about featured snippets. We’ve talked about these answer boxes that give you an organic result. One of the things Google is trying to do with this is they realize that they need to use their same core engine, their same core competency across all devices. So the engine that powers search, they want that to run on a TV. They want that to run on a laptop, on a desktop, on a phone, on a watch, on Goggle Home. They don’t want to write algorithms for all of these things.

So Google thinks of their entire world in terms of cards. You may not see that on desktop, but everything on desktop is a card. This answer box is a card. That’s more obvious. It’s got that outline. Every organic result, every ad, every knowledge panel, every news story is a card. What that allows Google to do, and will allow them to do going forward, is to mix and match and put as many pieces of information as it makes sense for any given device. So for desktop, that might be a whole bunch. For mobile, that’s going to be a vertical column. It might be less. But for a watch or a Google Glass, or whatever comes after that, or voice, you’re probably only going to get one card.

But one great thing right now, from an SEO perspective, is these featured snippets, these questions and answers, they fit on that big screen. We call it result number zero on desktop because you’ve got that box, and you’ve got a bunch of stuff underneath it. But that box is very prominent. On mobile, that same question and answer take up a lot more screen space. So they’re still a SERP, but that’s very dominant, and then there’s some stuff underneath. On voice, that same question and answer pairing is all you get, and we’re seeing that a lot of the answers on voice, unless they’re specialty like recipes or weather or things like that, have this question and answer format, and those are also being driven by featured snippets.

So the good news I think, and will hopefully stay good news going forward, is that because Google wants all these devices to run off that same core engine, the things you do to rank well for desktop and to be useful for desktop users are also going to help you rank on mobile. They’re going to help you rank on voice, and they’re going to help you rank across all these devices. So I want you to be aware of this. I want you to try and not to break that chain. But I think the things we’re already good at will actually help us going forward in the future, and I’d highly encourage you to experiment with featured snippets to see how questions and answers appear on mobile and to see how they appear on Google Home, and to know that there’s going to be an evolution where all of these devices benefit somewhat from the kind of optimization techniques that we’re already good at hopefully.

Encourage the journey chain

So I also want to say that when you optimize for answers, the best answers leave searchers wanting more. So what you want to do is actually encourage this chain, encourage people to do more research, give them rich content, give them the kinds of things that draw them back to your site, that build credibility, because this chain is actually good news for us in a way. This can help us make a purchase. If we’re credible on these devices, if we have a decent mobile experience, if we come up on voice, that’s going to help us really kind of build our brand and be a positive thing for us if we work on it.

So I’d like you to tell me, what are your fears right now? I think we’re a little scared of the mobile index. What are you worried about with voice? What are you worried about with IoT? Are you concerned that we’re going to have to rank on our refrigerators, and what does that mean? So it’s getting into science fiction territory, but I’d love to talk about it more. I will see you in the comment section.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Marketing 101: What is above the fold?

The above-the-fold area (also known as “above the scroll”) is an arbitrary amount of space — far smaller on a mobile phone than a desktop computer. But is that arbitrary space enough room to tip the prospect’s mental calculus from “it isn’t worth taking this action” to “it is worth taking this action?”
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SEO Above the Funnel: Getting More Traffic When You Can’t Rank Any Higher

Posted by Tom.Capper

Normally, as SEOs, we follow a deceptively simple process. We identify how people are searching for our product, then we build or optimize pages or websites to match searcher intent, we make sure Google can find, understand, and trust it, and we wait for the waves of delicious traffic to roll in.

It’s not always that simple, though. What if we have the right pages, but just can’t rank any higher? What if we’re already satisfying all of the search volume that’s relevant to our product, but the business demands growth? What if there is no search volume relevant to our product?

What would you do, for example, if you were asked to increase organic traffic to the books section on Amazon? Or property search traffic to Rightmove (UK) or Zillow (US)? Or Netflix, before anyone knew that true online streaming services existed?

In this post, I’m going to briefly outline four simple tactics for building your relevant organic traffic by increasing the overall size of the market, rather than by trying to rank higher. And none of them require building a single link, or making any changes to your existing pages.

1. Conquer neighboring territories

This is a business tactic as well as an SEO one, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for reasonably uncompetitive verticals adjacent to your own. You have an advantage in these, because you already have a brand, a strong domain, a website to build upon, and so forth. New startups trying to make headway in these spaces will struggle to compete with a fairly low-effort execution on your part, if you judge it well.

Start by ideating related products. For example, if you’re a property listings site, you might look at:

  • Home insurance
  • Home valuation
  • Flat-sharing listings
  • Area guides

Once you’ve outlined your list (it’s probably longer than my example), you can do your basic keyword research, and take a look at the existing ranking pages. This is a bit like identifying keyword opportunities, except you’re looking at the core landing pages of a whole vertical — look at their Domain Authorities, their branded search volumes, the quality of their landing pages, the extent to which they’ve done basic SEO, and ask whether you could do better.

In the example above, you might find that home insurance is well served by fairly strong financial services or comparison sites, but flat-sharing is a weak vertical dominated by a few fairly young and poorly executed sites. That’s your opportunity.

To minimize your risk, you can start with a minimal viable version — perhaps just a single landing page or a white-labeled product. If it does well, you know it merits further investment.

You’ve already established a trusted brand, with a strong website, which users are already engaging in — if you can extend your services and provide good user experiences in other areas, you can beat other, smaller brands in those spaces.

2. Welcome the intimidated

Depending on your vertical, there may be an untapped opportunity among potential customers who don’t understand or feel comfortable with the product. For example, if you sell laptops, many potential customers may be wary of buying a laptop online or without professional advice. This might cause them not to buy, or to buy a cheaper product to reduce the riskiness.

A “best laptops under £500,” or “lightest laptops,” or “best laptops for gaming” page could encourage people to spend more, or to buy online when they might otherwise have bought in a store. Pages like this can be simple feature comparisons, or semi-editorial, but it’s important that they don’t feel like a sales or up-sell function (even though that’s what the “expert” in the store would be!).

This is even more pertinent the more potentially research intensive the purchase is. For example, Crucial have done amazingly for years with their “system scanner,” linked to prominently on their homepage, which identifies potential upgrades and gives less savvy users confidence in their purchase.

Guaranteed compatible!

If this seems like too much effort, the outdoor retailer Snow and Rock don’t have the best website in the world, but they have taken a simpler approach in linking to buying guides from certain product pages — for example, this guide on how to pick a pair of walking boots.

Can you spot scenarios where users abandon in your funnels because of fear or complexity, or where they shift their spend to offline competitors? If you can make them feel safe and supported, you might be able to change their buying behavior.

3. Whip up some fervor

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have enthusiasts who know your vertical like the back of their hand, but could be incited to treat themselves a little more. I’ve been really impressed recently by a couple of American automotive listings sites doing this really well.

The first is Autotrader.com, who have hired well-known automotive columnist Doug Demuro from Jalopnik.com to produce videos and articles for their enthusiast news section. These articles and videos talk about the nerdy quirks of some of the most obscure and interesting used cars that have been listed on the site, and it’s not uncommon for videos on Doug’s YouTube channel — which mention Autotrader.com and feature cars you could buy on Autotrader.com — to get well into 7-figure viewing counts.

These are essentially adverts for Autotrader.com’s products, but I and hundreds of thousands of others watch them religiously. What’s more, the resulting videos and articles stand to rank for the types of queries that curious enthusiasts may search for, turning informational queries into buying intent, as well as building brand awareness. I actually think Autotrader.com could do even better at this with a little SEO 101 (editorial titles don’t need to be your actual title tag, guys), but it’s already a great tactic.

Another similar site doing this really well is Bringatrailer.com. Their approach is really simple — whenever they get a particularly rare or interesting car listed, they post it on Facebook.

These are super low-effort posts about used cars, but if you take a step back, Bring a Trailer are doing something outrageous. They’re posting links to their product pages on Facebook a dozen or more times a day, and getting 3-figure reaction counts. Some of the lesson here is “have great product pages,” or “exist in an enthusiast-rich vertical,” and I realize that this tactic isn’t strictly SEO. But it is doing a lot of things that we as SEOs try to do (build awareness, search volume, links…), and it’s doing so by successfully matching informational or entertainment intents with transactional pages.

When consumers engage with a brand emotionally or even socially, then you’re more likely to be top-of-mind when they’re ready to purchase — but they’re also more likely to purchase if they’re seeing and thinking about your products, services, and sector in their feed.

4. Tell people your vertical exists

I won’t cover this one in too much detail, because there’s already an excellent Whiteboard Friday on the subject. The key point, however, is that sometimes it’s not just that customers are intimidated by your product. They may never have heard of it. In these cases, you need to appear where they’re looking using demographic targeting, carefully researched editorial sections, or branded content.

What about you, though?

How do you go about drumming up demand in your vertical? Tell me all about it in the comments below.

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Life Above and Beyond the Fold

Posted by tallen1985

For many years we used content above the fold as a gateway for users to access pretty much anywhere on our sites. We would fill these 600 or so pixels of valuable space with all the important sections of our site we wanted our users to know about (we were particularly guilty of this on homepages, as Rand discussed in this Whiteboard Friday).

However, the arrival of smartphones and tablets has forever changed the way people consume information and navigate around the web. Smartphones taught users how to scroll and swipe, and as such have reinvented the way webpages are designed. So, what about the fold? How has this changed in this multi-screen world?

Space above the fold is still hugely important, but instead of just sharing everything there, the fear centers around the idea that users may not want to scroll. Instead, we now need to narrow down our focus, using space above the fold to share our main ideas that will make people want to read the rest of the page.

History of the fold

The term “above the fold” originates from the world of newspapers; papers are generally shown to customers folded in half, therefore only the top half of the page is visible. Editors would use this space to grab attention using important stories, powerful headlines and strong imagery to encourage users to buy the paper.

On a webpage, the fold is the area of a page displayed to the user without them having to scroll. Based on a 1366×768 pixel screen resolution (a little more on this choice later), the area highlighted in red is generally how content is presented to users on a landing page (i.e. above the fold)

Is space above the fold still valuable in 2014?

At the end of 2013, Peep Laja spoke at SearchLove about the Principles of Persuasive Web Design. He had observed that despite it being 2013 (now 2014) and us living in a much more scroll-oriented world, content placed above the fold was still grabbing 80% of our attention.

Image source

This continues to make above-the-fold space highly valuable to capture a user’s attention. The main difference today is that users no longer have the patience they once had. This is due to the high volume of content users have access to, making earning their attention increasingly competitive.

Therefore, this space should no longer be filled with clutter and overwhelming amounts of information. Instead, above the fold content needs to contain a strong value proposition that explains to the user exactly what the page can offer.

With so many devices, how can you possibly design for above the fold?

The multi-screen world we now live in has changed the face of above-the-fold space. With such a range of devices and responsive designs the fold will appear in different places dependent upon numerous factors (such as screen resolution, thickness of the user’s toolbar, and whether the page is zoomed).

How do we design for this? There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem, but what we can do is ensure our important content is towards the top of the page and is optimised to serve the majority of our users.

To find out which screen resolutions the majority of your users use on your site, complete the following steps:

1.Open Google Analytics

2.In the “Audience” tab, view “Technology” and select “Browser & OS”

3.Choose “Screen Resolution”

How to view your site in different resolutions

To see where the fold is for various screen dimensions, use the “Inspect Element” feature in Chrome to override your own screen resolution.

1. Right-click anywhere on the page in Chrome, and select “Inspect Element”

2. Click on the settings gear in the bottom-right corner of the screen

3. Select “Overrides” and check the “Enable” box. Check “Device metrics” and input the screen resolution you would like to view the site at. Note that closing the override window will return your browser to its default resolution.

Designing for beyond the fold

Okay, so we know that space above the fold is still incredibly important for engaging user attention. What about the rest of our beautifully created content? A study by Clicktale shows that if a page has a scroll bar it will be used by 76% of users to at least some extent. 22% will scroll to the bottom of the page. So, as pointed out by Usability Expert Jakob Nielsen, space above the fold still grabs the majority of attention and people do scroll, but we should make sure that we are designing to encourage that scrolling.

While mobile devices have developed scrolling as natural user behavior we have to ensure that our page layouts are designed to showcase all our content. So what should the fold line look like? Ideally, we want to make content on the fold line draw the users eyes down the page.

Three ways in which we can encourage scrolling

1. Staggered content columns

By making content different lengths in each column we prevent the issue of having empty space across the width of the page, making it seem like the page has ended. One paragraph or image is always broken by the fold, encouraging the user to scroll down to see more information. This is a style often used by newspaper websites such as the New York Times and the BBC.

2. Page trails

Using a footpath that walks users through the page is a great way to encourage users to scroll. The fold simply dissects the path, which the user will naturally continue to follow. A great example of this in action is the Guide to WordPress by Simply Business.

3. Sometimes you just have to tell them

Image source

Sometimes rather than trying to use subtle visual cues to guide users down the page it can be beneficial to simply tell the user there is more content for them to see. This is the approach Put Things Off uses to introduce further features of their mobile app.

Key takeaways

  • The fold still matters. While space above the fold used to serve as a portal to explore all the sections of a site, its purpose is to now grab attention and introduce the user to your brand/product.
  • We live in a multi-screen world and scrolling is now habitual. If we are building pages that require scrolling we need to ensure we encourage this behaviour through visual prompts and remind the user there is deeper content below the fold.
  • Continue to monitor user behaviour particularly in relation to the most commonly used screen resolutions in order to ensure valuable content remains above the fold.

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Owl.li Is Ranking Above My Own Page! What To Do? Whooo To Blame?

Posted by evolvingSEO

Preface: How Normal URL Shorteners Work

Hang tight, folks! Before we get into the whooo-done-it part of this post, here's a basic illustration of how URL shorteners work.

It's pretty simple actually, on the surface.

  • You need a short domain name (like bit.ly – which is possible because of the .ly extension)
  • A random URL (or custom "vanity" if you choose) is created on the short domain like bit.ly/h1oiSn/ or bity.ly/example-url/ (both fake)
  • A visit to that URL sends the user via 301 redirect or 302 redirect to the page it's linked to.

Here's a real example of a URL I recently shortened with Bitly:

See? NORMAL. And Bit.ly uses a 301 redirect which is also most liked, since 301's pass link equity.

And the Bitly URL should (ideally) never rank above the final "real" URL.

Danny Sullivan's post, although a bit outdated now, shows (of the shorteners from that time) which services use 301s and which use 302s. Note that he highly advises against the use of URLs with 302s. Remember that for later :-)

If you want to examine more details before we begin, you can check out the wikipedia page on URL shortening. However, the point of this post is to analyze a particular SERP which returns a shortened URL instead of the normal URL.

Which One Of These Things Doesn't Belong?

For one, startupcity.org should probably rank #1 – implied brand search. But… that's not quite it. See it?

Perhaps if I restate it.

Here's a Hint – Whoooo Doesn't Belong?

(Image source)

If You Said "The Owl" or "Owl.li" – Good Job!

No prize though I'm afraid.

Strange result credit: tweet by Rand.

There are two things wrong with this screenshot.

  • An owl.li URL is ranking in the first page on the SERPs
  • Startupcity.org is not ranking as well as you'd think, as this is definitely an implied brand search.

Needless to say, Rand's tweet highlighting this strange behavior certainly led to the idea for this post.

Initial Hypothesis: Owl.li URLs are NOT normal

But what's different about them? What's causing one to rank on the first page?

Who's at fault – Google, owl.li, or the site owner?

Let's see if we can find out!! In the process, we'll examine the implications of using owl.li and come up with some best practices that you can follow to avoid this happening on your site.

The first thing I'd like to invite you to do is to join me on a guided video tour of a bunch of screenshots I took while investigating this.


The Evidence In a Screencast 

Oh boy, this is a multimedia extravaganza on the Moz blog! I decided to walk through all my bits of evidence in a screencast  - to give you a quick overview of the investigative process behind this.

Video 1/2 – you'll want to expand to full screen

Video 2/2 – again, full screen will look best!

Well now… those videos were fun, yes? Alright, let's examine the biggest takeaways from this first look.


Top 5 Highlights From the Video

You didn't want to watch the videos? (Sadface) OK. Here are the 5 most significant screencaps:

1. What's the Redirect Path To the Final URL?

This naturally was my first question. How is owl.li executing the redirects? And what a fabulous opportunity to use this new redirect checker chrome plugin by Ayima. The redirect path of this owl.li URL is as follows:

redirect path of owl.li link

It's a 302 redirect followed by three 301 redirects. I know redirect chains are not the best thing in the world, so could this be causing the strange indexation? I file that question in my brain for later.

2. Does StartupCity Have Internal Links Sending Mixed Signals?

You should ALWAYS internally link to the current version of your URLs. This makes your site faster, it prevents things from breaking in the future, and allows only external links/bookmarks to be passed through redirects.

Sometimes internal links pointing to pages which then 301 can send mixed signals. Sure enough, there's some of that happening on startupcity.org

site has internal links that 301 redirect

However, I'm not entirely convinced this is causing Google to actually rank the owl.li page.

3. What Does Google's Documentation Say About Redirects?

Google states pretty clearly that they can and do index 302's.

google documentation on server responce codes 3xx

I do find it interesting that Google doesn't say either way if a 301 can be indexed.

References here and here

4. Can I Get BOTH URLs To Return in a Search?

I switched around the keywords, and now we have both URLs ranking on the first page. Yes, the owl.li URL AND the startupcity.org URL are both on the first page.

this just keeps getting weirder - BOTH urls are indexed

5. How Do You Make an Owl.li URL?

You'll see in the video that I had a few unsuccessful attempts at making an owl.li URL (had no idea, never done it before!). I finally figured out where owl.li links come from. I'm sure some of you already know, but as I am not a heavy HootSuite user, I had to look. (Note: this image is not in the video. So consider this a bonus? Unless you're watching the video – then you're missing out.)

  1. First put the link in the link field
  2. Before shortening click the gear (advanced)
  3. Select owl.li from the drop down

Who to Blame? Google, Owl.li, or the Site Owner?

The following conclusions and recommendations are my personal thoughts – I would follow them myself and refer them to clients. However, I have to be completely honest. I'm not 100% sure why Google is ranking that owl.li result for [startupcity 100].

I do have some strong hypotheses and tips for site owners.

Owl.li Was Created as an Alternative to the .ly Domain

I finally found some record of when and why the owl.li shortener was put into place.

  • Here's the post directly from HootSuite - to sum up, they state to have initiated it because of concerns over the .ly top level domain and civil unrest in Libya (the country from which the TLD belongs to). Users of HootSuite were given the option of choosing their shortener in April of 2011
  • Here's an article from the Social Times - the article more or less sums up the move to owl.li for safety and all that.

Now I know WHY this was put into place, but still don't know why they chose to use 302's.

Also, they claim users can avoid the .ly TLD – this isn't entirely true though, because everything still passes through ow.ly as a redirect.

Owl.li Sends You Through a 302 and Then 301 Redirect

Owl.li is not like other short URL services. It sends you through a 302 and then a 301.

  

This is perhaps the biggest takeaway of all, which is worth restating. Owl.li sends their links via 302, through ow.ly which then 301 to the final page. This, again, seems like a double whammy. Not only is the "double redirect" not necessary, the 302 means none of the link equity is being passed on to your page.

Again, I would like to know – why does HootSuite tell us owl.li is an alternative to ow.ly (to avoid the .ly) but then direct all URLs through ow.ly anyway?

Google's Side – Possible Reasons/Implications of Shortened URLs In the Index

Redirects alone don't prevent indexation – Google does not say they don't index 301's or 302's. They state in the affirmative that they may index 302's – and they don't state anything either way about 301's. So it does make sense as to why the shortened URLs are in the index. (Please note that Bing does not index 302 redirects, according to this article from 2010 – which is likely why there are almost no owl.li URLs indexed).

Ranking signal - They were likely indexed because they were tweeted. Perhaps further indication of Google using Twitter as a ranking signal? Index the short URLs and assign a page value to them (by number of tweets, inbound links, etc.)? There's really no value for the user to have them in the index, right?

Destination pages had issues – The pages they pointed to had some internal issues – like the IP addresses not resolving, or the internal linking, or large chains of redirects.

A short URL ranking well Is an anomaly – However, the startupcity.org result was the ONLY one that actually ranked above its destination page. All the other ones may be indexed, but I have never seen a short URL ranking on page one before. (If you have I'd be interested – tweet me @dan_shure with a screencap).

Site Owners – Follow These Best Practices

Ultimately, I don't blame the site owner in this case (or in many others). But there are some best practices to follow that can reduce the risk of these issues (or others) appearing in the SERPs.

1. Reduce and ideally eliminate chains of redirects

  • Use the new tool by Ayima to check for redirect chains on a page by page basis.
  • To check redirect headers a bit more intensely, use URI Valet (set to Googlebot for indexation questions).
  • You can even use Screaming Frog SEO Spider to check for redirects.

To eliminate redirect chains; instead of Page 1->Page 2->Page 3

Use 

Page 1->Page 3

Page 2->Page 3

2. Use noindex, the URL removal request, or robots.txt to permanently get a page deindexed

Google will index 301 and 302 redirected URLs. If the page still exists, use a meta noindex tag on the page and request removal with webmaster tools. If the page no longer exists, do the URL removal request and use robots.txt to keep it from getting back in the index.

3. Keep your site's internal links updated.

As mentioned, this helps to;

  • Make your site faster
  • Eliminate mixed signals
  • Prevent things from getting broken in the future
  • Only external links/bookmarks have to get passed through redirects

Point your users at the current version of your URLs whenever possible. Anything from pointing to the homepage as /index.php when its just / – always keep your internal links updated.

Use Screaming Frog to crawl the site and look for any that need fixin'

4. Use Ow.ly in preference to Owl.li

We have seen that by using owl.li you're STILL using Ow.ly – because the ow.li 302 redirects through ow.ly. Who knows if this will always be the case, but why send your links through an extra redirect and also risk the owl.li URL showing in the SERP of the destination page?

So Whooo's Responsible?

Right – I never did say :-)

It sure would be most fun to point blame at one particular party – but in this case it's completely a team effort.

  • Google – is indexing thousands of owl.li URLs
  • Owl.li – is sending all those URLs through a 302 and then a 301
  • Startupcity.org – has additional 301 redirects leading to that page, in addition to internal links not pointing at the most current page.

I believe it is the combination of these three factors that's causing this, but my findings are certainly not scientifically conclusive. I always encourage you to do your own questioning and investigating.

So site owners, follow the best practices above, and remember how interesting it is to bring this third service of URL shortening into the mix to contribute to these sorts of issues.


Further Reading On URL Shortening

It seems this topic was of much larger discussion around 2009. Understandably so, since its kind of "old news" now. But is it really old news? Danny Sullivan says that it's really time for an updated look into this topic.

I personally hope this post may get some other people to look more into this topic, starting with the comments. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

And…

I'll be at MozCon… come say hi!

or say hi out in the interwebs :)


Update – Was About to Hit Publish, and then…

You thought this post was done? Well, so did I! And then I did one last search for startupcity.org – only to find the whole site now redirects to another URL, startupseattle.com

So if you go and try to research this yourself – it seems like this case is changing by the hour! Definitely an interesting one to follow.

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